Home > The Long Game

The Long Game
Author: Elena Armas



The head rolled off his shoulders and halted at my feet with a thump.

Goosebumps erupted at the top of my spine and spread down my body.

I should have been familiar with the scene. I should remember something I had lived and was watching on a screen. But I didn’t. So when silence fell, plunging the Miami Flames’ facilities into a sudden vacuum, my heart dropped to my stomach. And when the voice of one of the camera guys was caught by the mic asking in a whisper, “Dude, are you recording this?” I was pretty sure I stopped breathing.

Oh God. What—

The top of Paul’s head popped out of the headless neckline of Sparkles, the mascot’s costume, and a wave of panic washed over me.

Paul blinked, anger and shock meshing in his expression before spitting a “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

My lips parted, as if some instinctual part of my brain wanted to answer him. Now. Even when it wouldn’t make a difference. “I—”

The image on the screen froze, forcing my gaze up to the face of the man holding the iPad that had reproduced the thirty seconds that had been missing from my memory.

“I think we’ve seen enough,” Andrew Underwood, CEO and managing director of the Miami Flames FC and Miami-based business mogul, stated.

“I beg to differ,” the man by his side said with a light chuckle. “This is a crisis meeting and we should make sure we have all the details.” A crisis meeting? “In fact,” David continued, “I think we should play it again from the beginning. I’m not sure what Adalyn was grunting while decapitating our dear Sparkles. Was it just angry growling or actual words she was—”

“David,” Andrew interjected, dropping the device on the unnecessarily large desk separating them from me. “This is serious.”

“It is,” the younger man agreed, and I didn’t need to look at him to know he was smirking. I knew that smirk. I’d kissed that smirk. Dated it for a complete year. Then, worked under it when he’d been handed the position I’d dreamed of my whole life. “It’s not every day we get the head of communications of an MLS club gunning for the team’s mascot in six-inch heels.” I sensed—heard—that smile widening, and I felt my face turning to stone. “A shocking turn, surely. But also—”

“Unacceptable,” Andrew finished for him. “Everyone in this room knows that.” Those pale blue eyes met mine, sharp and unforgiving. Which wasn’t a surprise. I also knew that glare. I’d endured The Glare for most of my life. He continued, “Adalyn’s outburst was inexcusable, but you shouldn’t forget yourself. This is my daughter you’re talking about.”

I lifted my chin, as if the reminder wasn’t something I tried to ignore on a daily basis.

Adalyn Reyes, the overachieving daughter of the CEO of the soccer franchise she’d been working for all her life.

“I apologize for the tone, Andrew,” David said, and even if his tone had sobered, I still didn’t look at him. I couldn’t. Not after everything that had gone down in the last twenty-four hours. Not after what I’d learned. “But as VP of operations of the Flames I’m concerned about the repercussions of the incident.”

The incident.

My lips pressed into a tight line.

My father clicked his tongue, returning his eyes to the device and unlocking it again.

His finger swiped up and down, and left and right, until a document popped open. Even upside down, I immediately recognized what he was looking at. It was the template I’d designed for the press and media reports. The one that everyone used now. I’d created the color-coded system for priority items that was currently making the screen shine with bright red.

Red, as in top priority. Red, as in crisis.

We hadn’t had one in months. Years.

“I haven’t approved that,” I muttered, hearing my voice for the first time since my father had hit play on the video. I cleared my throat. “Every report should go through me before reaching management.”

But my father only exhaled, deep and long, ignoring me in favor of scrolling through the—I leaned forward—fifteen-page report.

My eyes widened. “Can I—”

“Media impact of the incident,” he said over me. “Let’s start with that.”

My lips popped open again, but David moved closer, his mane of dirty blond hair distracting me. His smirk met my gaze, and I could immediately tell he knew something. Something I didn’t.

“Virality rate,” my father continued, tapping the screen with his index finger. My stomach dropped. Virality? Of what? My father’s eyebrows crumpled. “How is an impression different from a view?”

“What platform are we talking about?” I rushed out, squaring my shoulders. “That’s why I have to approve these. I usually add notes for you. If you let me have a look I can—”

David tsked, his gaze dropping to the iPad in my father’s hands. Then he quipped, “I guess it doesn’t really matter, Andrew.” His eyes returned to mine. “The video has six million views across all platforms. I think we all understand that.”

The video.

Six million views.

Across all platforms.

My knees wobbled. I wobbled. And I wasn’t one to.

Often, I’d been told I was too clinical, my humor too dry, and my smiles too rare. My assistant, Kelly, the only one in the Flames’ offices who has made the effort to befriend me, openly calls me an unbothered queen. But I know most people here refer to me as an ice queen, or snow queen, or whatever variation of the term that references being cold and female. I’d never let it bother me.

Because I never wavered. Or wobbled. Or let things affect me.

Not until yesterday, when I—

David let out a chuckle. “You’re officially viral, Ads.”

When I’d gunned for the team’s mascot in six-inch heels, as David had put it.

My lunch crawled up my esophagus, partly because of that Ads I’d always hated so much and partly because I… God. I couldn’t believe this. I was viral. Viral.

“Six million views,” my father said with a shake of his head when I didn’t—couldn’t—speak. “Six million people have seen you bulldoze into the mascot, scratch at his face, and pluck his goddamn head off. Six million. That’s the population of Miami metropolitan.” The tips of his ears went red. “You even have your own hashtag: #sparklesgate. And people are using it next to the club’s.”

“I didn’t know it was all recorded,” I all but murmured, hating how my voice sounded. “I couldn’t know there was a video circulating, but—”

“There’s no but in this situation, Adalyn. You assaulted a colleague.” The word assault hung in the air, and my jaw clamped shut. “Paul is an employee and Sparkles is an entity of this team. He is a phoenix that embodies the fire, immortality, and transformation of the Miami Flames. Your team. And you attacked him while the press was in the house for the club’s anniversary. Journalists. Cameras. The team and their families. There were children watching, for Christ’s sake.”

I swallowed, making sure my shoulders remained squared. Strong. Image was everything in these situations. And I couldn’t break. Not here. Not again. “I understand, I do. Sparkles is an important symbol and he is well loved by the fans. But the word assault seems an exaggeration. I didn’t physically harm Paul, I…”

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